March 12, 2017 — Second Sunday of Lent
It may be difficult for us to grasp the fact that Lent is already almost ¼ of the way along. Most of us appreciate what Lent is all about. A few years ago Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI described Lent in a pre-Lenten audience. He said,
“Lent is like a long ‘retreat’ during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ that we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God, and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”
The Word of God speaks to us from a variety of perspectives in the readings for this Second Sunday of Lent. Five times in the First Reading from Genesis, Chapter 12, God says “I will…” as He makes promises to Abram. The previous Chapter 11 from Genesis is all about the plans of humankind, but Chapter 12 is all about God’s plan. It is God’s plan we should seek during this Lenten season. For us to seek and define what God wants us to do, how He wants us to serve, how He wishes us to be good stewards using our gifts should be the focus of what we are doing during Lent. One facet of the story of Abram relates to obedience. We, too, are called to obedience to the Word of God.
St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, along with the First Letter and the Letter to Titus, are unique from a couple of standpoints. Of all Paul’s letters these are the only ones addressed to individuals rather than to communities. In addition, many scholars have reached the conclusion that these were among, if not the final letters written by Paul. Paul’s advice to Timothy is also good counsel for us during our Lenten efforts.
Opening with the statement, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Paul delivers a clear message. This is a common theme and message from St. Paul — namely that whatever we do and whatever we perceive to do during Lent, it will only be possible to accomplish if we ask for God’s help and God’s strength. This, of course, is accomplished through prayer and trust, two important elements of Lent and of our faith in general. Through Paul we also learn what the real joy of Easter concerns — that is, the Lord “saved us and called us to a holy life,” and it was Christ Jesus “who destroyed death and brought life and immortality.” If we focus on that, we are well on the path to both holiness and a good Lent.
Our Gospel Reading for today gives us Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration. This is one of the most momentous events in Christ’s life, and just as it was almost impossible for Peter to fully comprehend what he was witnessing, it is equally complicated for us to understand. During Lent this gives us a small glimpse into what the glory will be, what the key to our faith should be. The Transfiguration is exceptional in so many ways. Jesus gave no warning that it was going to occur. It never happens again. There appears to be no reference to it in any Old Testament prophecy, and Jesus instructed those who witnessed it not to repeat or report what they had seen.
Yet it is so connected to Jesus’ mission and our salvation. It shows us the life to come. It reminds us that there is a splendor and a glory to that life that is beyond our understanding and certainly our imaginations. There is what might be called an eruption of divine light, the brilliance of the holiness promised to us that glows in a new way. This should provide us with motivation to dedicate ourselves anew to our own transformation that needs to occur during this Lenten period. Pope Francis has put it quite simply, but at the heart of what he said is our understanding and goal to be sought by the Transfiguration. The Holy Father said, quite simply, “Listen to Jesus and follow Him. That is the message of the Transfiguration.”